Tag Archives: lost

a neighborhood re-written

I learned something new about history along the Beltline the other day!

The old Bellwood Quarry property was purchased by the City of Atlanta in 2006 for the future 300 acre Westside Reservoir Park which will connect to the Beltline in its northwest segment. The park will incorporate the abandoned Bellwood Quarry which will serve as a reservoir for Atlanta’s water supply. When filled, the quarry will be deeeeeeeeep (so don’t fall in!) able to contain 30 days-worth of back-up water supply for the city. This is a thorough WABE report on the future Westside Reservoir Park.

WestsidePark-overlay notes

The property (outlined above) appears to be a shoe-in for a park, comprised of great expanses of field and forest besides the quarry itself. But all of that property is not all undeveloped land or at least it wasn’t always. I learned the other day that, in fact, a whole neighborhood had been built, lived in, and demolished–not once, but TWICE–where woods now stand on the northern portion of the future park, enter…


Perry-Rockdale crop Atlanta_Base_Map 1940

The neighborhood of Rockdale Park has disappeared purposely from Atlanta’s maps two times in the 20th century, as Joe Hurley told us in a session of the 2015 Atlanta Studies Symposium. “Rockdale” does appear in the list of Westside neighborhoods on beltline.org though all that appears today is 21st century development north of the future park. Physical evidence of this area before the turn of the millennium has been all but wiped out. This too is about where the google-able information stops but Mr. Hurley’s tale of urban housing fails picks up.

It started to make sense when I discovered how closely Rockdale Park was linked with one of Atlanta’s infamous housing projects, Perry Homes. In fact, it appears that the original Rockdale Park neighborhood (a grid of streets and early 20th century houses) covered the ground from the Bellwood Quarry north to the railroad line and Inman Yards. In the 1939-40 real estate map of Atlanta above, you can see the neighborhood clearly laid out both north and south of Johnson Road which today (it’s route redrawn a little) makes the northern border of the future Westside Reservoir Park. 1949 aerials of Atlanta clearly show what may have been American small houses, but I’m just guessing. It is likely too that the residents of this neighborhood were mostly blue collar, associated either with the quarrying to the south of or the enormous Inman Yards.

Inman Yard Atlanta, c. 1917, Atlanta History Center

Inman Yard Atlanta, c. 1917, Atlanta History Center

In 1960, the area between the railroad and Proctor Creek was majority African-American (see this “Percent Non-White” map) and was already part of the urban housing–“projects”–experiments going on across mid-century America. In 1959 the first Perry Homes housing project was built just north of Johnson Road, after a fire, the “homes” were rebuilt in the mid-1970s and this so-called “residential brownfield,” “a region [of Atlanta] that for nearly 50 years has been synonymous with crime and violence and blight” (AHA press) was eventually torn down by 2000 when the mixed use development, West Highland, was begun to transform the area. Heck, Marta wouldn’t even go there–although a Perry Homes spur was proposed, the line (now the Edgewood-Bankhead short train) would only be built as far as the Bankhead Highway.

Mr. Hurley showed us that the Rockdale Park neighborhood was razed, and while the northern portion became Perry Homes, the lower portion was never redeveloped to it’s full potential. Some but not all of the proposed buildings of a housing project on the South side of Johnson Road were built, and within short decades, also demolished. Nothing stands there now except the scraped earth of the most recent development, and forest with no trespassing signs shrouding any evidence of the earlier neighborhood called Rockdale Park.

Current googlemap of the northern Westside Reservoir Park overlaying the 1939-40 map of Rockdale Park neighborhood.

Current googlemap of the northern Westside Reservoir Park overlaying the 1939-40 map of Rockdale Park neighborhood.

While Rockdale Park has been mostly forgotten for decades, the creation of the Westside Reservoir Park offers a great opportunity to bring its memory, history, and the lessons of the neighborhood’s demise back into the public consciousness and the story of Atlanta.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping Mr. Hurley will put more on the web soon as his studies progress!

Sparta Courthouse destroyed

IMG_3533In horrible terrible no good very bad preservation news for the day, the Hancock County Courthouse burned to the ground in the wee hours of the morning.

I’ve written about Sparta a couple times over the years, thanks to work at the Trust, Sparta is one of the small towns in Georgia that I know best. In my opinion it is one of the best small towns in Georgia but that is an extremely personal opinion, you might have to be as intimately acquainted with a place like Macon, Miss., as I am to feel drawn to a place like Sparta. It’s a unique town too though, chock full of exquisite architectural examples from simple cottages on the back roads to antebellum townhomes of wealthy planters to the high-style arts and crafts former girl’s school on Maiden Lane. The high-style Italianate courthouse at the center of town was no exception.

No elaboration was spared on this courthouse which I think was one of the prettiest in the state. Though it may be the poorest county in the state, one could say that thanks to that and the severe decline of the population of Hancock County (from a peak of nearly 20,000 in 1910 to a declining 9,429 in 2010), expanding government over the 20th century didn’t actually take up more space in the courthouse and the relatively small 1881 building was still able to serve for all of Hancock County’s business and operations. The poverty of the county kept the courthouse relatively unchanged—besides some thin carpet added to the offices in the 60s or 70s and a cinderblock bathroom built under the west stair—it felt like one was stepping back in time.

Hancock County Courthouse courtroom

Well, you were.

It just so happened that I was traveling to Eatonton today, just 30 minutes from Sparta. My heart was heavy with dread as I took the road out of that town that pointed to Sparta, but I couldn’t stay away. I wanted to get it over with. It was close to 5:00 when I arrived, pulling into town on 16 and instead of the clock tower rising up ahead of me crowning the hill of town, there was a smudge between the trees of the courthouse square. The building was still smoldering and ash and smoke blew this way and that from the building, acrid in your nostrils. I didn’t see anyone I knew but several other people parked and walked up too, all the way around, one mother and her daughter who looked as near to tears as I was, a man and his 3 children, and more locals like the mechanics next door and workers in yellow vests who’d been there all day. We all looked at each other and said what a shame it was. How very sad. We refrained from shoulder crying.

Most of the brick walls were intact, but nothing else was, it was a brick shell, all of the wood, the doors, the plaster, the glass, were incinerated, even the iron rail of the false balcony was even mangled and twisted on the ground. There was no one to stop you from going too close, but news crews and workers seemed to be eyeing you. A cavalcade of masonry units that must’ve spilled out of the doors to the street when the clock tower fell in lay outside the yellow tape. I grabbed a good brick from the pile and went on my way.

photo by Halston Pittman